Derek from the Drugs & Alcohol team has come to visit Alfie. Not in an official capacity. He used to be a user and drinker himself and knows Alfie from the streets, way-back. He heard Alfie’s condition had deteriorated, and tracked him down to his flat on the other side of town to catch up on the old names and faces.
Derek is an impressive figure. A heavy set man in his late forties, brutally healthy, the scars on the great nub of his head as much a testament to his past as the crude, pen-stabbed tattoos on his knuckles. But his humanity is equally powerful. It radiates from him so warmly it lifts the room, transforming the degraded conditions – the grimy bed, the sticky floor, the fine dusting of fag ash over everything  – making it all seem tragic rather than simply wretched, something worthy of loving compassion. I can imagine him descending into the most appalling underground car park at midnight and lighting up every corner.
‘I’m still working on me African dream,’ he says, leaning forward and touching Alfie on the knee.
Alfie fumbles with his hearing aid.
‘What’s that?’
‘I said I’m still working on me African dream. I’ll be off to the Gambia before you know it.’
‘Oh, ay?’
Alfie looks a little tearful, but whether that’s because he knows he’ll be dead by the time Derek sets foot on African soil, or whether he’s thinking at least one of them made it out alive, it’s impossible to know.
‘Yeah,’ says Derek. ‘Me African dream. I’m gonna be buildin’ an ‘ouse with me girlfriend. You know ‘er, don’cha, Alf? That gerl from the Gambia? We’re goin’ back there together an’ we’re startin’ over. But don’t worry about me, mate. I’m not gonna get eaten by no crocodile. There’s not many big animals where we’re going, so I won’t get me ‘ed bit off by an ‘ippo. I aven’t seen too many ‘ippos in that neck of the woods. The biggest danger is that lunatic running the country. He could turn round at any time and say ‘Ere! I’ll have that house if yer don’t mind, thanks very much’. But what can you do, Alf, eh? You gotta take some chances, don’cha?’
Alfie nods.
‘No. Not too many ‘ippos. I tell you what, though. What they do got is bairds. There’s plenty of bairds there, Alfie. Big colourful ones. Big as dogs. Chatty ones. If you like your bairds you’re quids in.’

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